The Russian deputy foreign minister said Thursday that representatives of the Russian government were in contact with members of the Trump campaign during the presidential election.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian state-run news agency Interfax that “there were contacts” with Trump’s team throughout the campaign, according to the Washington Post.
Ryabkov said communications “were on a sufficient, responsible level” and that they were “part of routine everyday work,” according to Bloomberg News.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Post in an email that “The campaign had no contact with Russian officials.”
However, Ryabkov said “I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives,” referring to “people from his entourage,” according to the same report.
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said meetings between Trump staffers and Russian government representatives were “normal practice,” noting representatives had reached out to the Clinton campaign as well and been rebuffed, according to the Post.
Ryabkov said there was “sporadic” though “not always productive” communication with the Clinton campaign, according to Bloomberg.
The Post said that Zakharova later sought to change the interpretation of Ryabkov’s remarks, saying that meetings occurred between Russian embassy staff and U.S. officials who supported Trump, not Trump campaign officials.
During the campaign, two high-level members of the Trump campaign, campaign chair Paul Manafort and foreign policy advisor Carter Page, resigned after their business ties to Russian interests came to light.
Page, who was later reported to have been the subject of an FBI probe of possible communications with senior Russian officials. He was also an advisor to, and investor in, the Russian state-owned gas company, Gazprom. For his part, Manafort’s previous career had been as a political consultant to Ukraine’s deposed pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Shortly before his resignation, the New York Times published a report suggesting $12.7 million was set aside for Manafort in an off-the-books ledger kept by Yanukovych’s party.
In October, a joint letter from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security formally accused Russia of attempting to interfere with the 2016 elections by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and others.